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Respond, not reform

Published Feb 01, 2015 12:27am


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The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

THERE are two kinds of bomb blasts in Pakistan: the kind that happen in places no one cares about and that result in nothing happening — immediately; and the other kind that happen in places people do care about and that result in nothing happening — in due course, after an initial kerfuffle.

There are also two kinds of crises in Pakistan: the kind that happen in places no one cares about and that lead to nothing happening — immediately; and the other kind that happen in places people do care about that lead to nothing happening — in due course, after an initial kerfuffle.

Sometimes, the gods like to mess with us and send us several of everything at the same time. So, we’ve had Peshawar and now Shikarpur. We’ve also had electricity and then petrol and now electricity again. And soon we’ll have some other attack and another crisis. And through it all, some folk will rage, others will shrug; some will run out of money, others will grow rich; some will bury a relative, others will get on with life — immediately or in due course.

Sometimes, things do catch up with you. In the places where it matters. Even then it just seems to add up to waiting for more.

Take petrol. So much time spent arguing over it, so much deconstruction of it — but did anyone mention that the shortage was because of that mother of all screw-ups, electricity? Every explanation, demand or supply side, so breathlessly offered by political apologists and overnight analysts came down to a version of ‘PSO ran out of money’. But because PSO is seemingly now always on the verge of running out of cash, it wasn’t necessary to explain why.

Except PSO is always running out of cash and credit and it’s mostly running out of cash and credit because of that mother of all screw-ups, electricity — euphemistically known as circular debt.

Pakistan is broken, but it isn’t broken enough to incentivise anyone in power to really fix anything.

Roughly, a long-term electricity crisis on one side of the energy pie eventually travelled to the other side of the energy pie and caused a disruption in the petrol scheme of things. Which isn’t very surprising. Because that’s what happen when you let epic crises drag out endlessly — in the financial world anyway, ’cause someone always has to get paid there.

Then again maybe it was better that few wanted to talk about a broken electricity sector in the midst of a petrol crisis — because that would have created two circuses instead of one.

Incensed folk would have been jumping up and down demanding to also know WHY THIS GOVERNMENT CAN’T FIX ELECTRICITY. An inane question that would have been met with inane answers like: the government is incompetent and doesn’t deserve to be in power or the government is corrupt and diverting mega deals to its favourites.

None of that would answer a more basic, incentives question: if the last general election was essentially a referendum on electricity, then why hasn’t this government learned that lesson?

Surely, when there’s a massive prize to be had — winning consecutive elections — for doing something that the last guy couldn’t do, the new guy should be doing whatever it takes to grab that prize.

Including crony capitalism and sweetheart energy deals — because once electricity is flowing and flowing at a reasonable price, few voters would complain. But the government is somehow managing to draw flak for crony capitalism AND not getting better at managing the electricity sector.

What gives? We seem to be in a state where we’re discovering the alternative to a winner-takes-all incentive: if everyone fails, then nobody really loses — among the politicians anyway.

If the electricity crisis began under Musharraf (army — best organised political party in the country) then worsened under Zardari (PPP) and now is infecting other sectors under Nawaz (PML) and eventually gets passed on to Imran (PTI) or Raheel (army) and those guys don’t fix it either — then, collectively, there’s nothing wrong with the system, right?

Essentially, sometimes incentives aren’t what they seem to be.

Take this madressah funding business. Folk are jumping up and down yelling for Saudi, and Gulf, funding to be cut off. But ‘foreign funding of madressahs is stoking extremism’ is the equivalent of ‘India is causing Balochistan’: a story we tell ourselves to feel better. It feels good to bash the noxious Saudis, but it’s not really their money that’s keeping the mosque-madressah-social welfare network afloat here — it’s Pakistanis themselves.

The mosque-madressah-social welfare network has created an economy of its own and even if you could somehow turn away the Saudi inflows, that economy would simply find alternative sources of funding locally. But nobody wants to talk about that because everybody knows nobody is willing to do anything about that — or can.

Drill down, poke around on the surface, pick these issues or any another issue — over and over again, once you strip away the silliness, you’ll find eventually the same answer: Pakistan is broken, but it isn’t broken enough to incentivise anyone in power to really fix anything. Or to put it another way: the state won’t reform, but it does respond — and as long as it can respond, it doesn’t need to reform.

We ran out of petrol, Nawaz made sure we had it in a couple of days. Why reform when you can respond? Especially since no one cares the short-term petrol crisis was a long-term result of the electricity crisis.

A school with the word ‘army’ in its name was attacked in Peshawar, the army went into overdrive to get those behind it and rolled out some populist stuff — hangings, military courts — to appease its base, the army itself. Why reform when you can respond?

Folk yelling about reforms here are usually missing the point: the system hasn’t yet created the incentives for the system to produce solutions. Until then, responses are what everyone will have to live with.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn February 1st, 2015

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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (43) Closed

Red Dawn Feb 01, 2015 12:52am

Bro, be light on grass!

Feroz Feb 01, 2015 01:56am

Why does the system want incentives to reform Sir ? Does one need to be paid anything other than salary to take decisions in the interest of the country.?

Dilectus Feb 01, 2015 02:35am

Nice one Cyril. Reformation demands sincerity and selflessness which current or previous politicians lacked.

Harmony Feb 01, 2015 03:10am

Good stuff. They are all just reactive, never proactive.

AdiB Feb 01, 2015 04:19am

There cannot be a reform, but there can only be responses, simply because the national psyche in Pakistan has developed a complex and elaborate "defense mechanism" against owning up any responsibility. Madressah problem? Blame Saudi and Iran. Balochistan problem? Blame India. Taliban problem? Blame US and Afghanistan. Even something frivolous like bowlers chucking? Blame BCCI.

On the contrary, there was so much praise for the whole Zarb-e-Azb fanfare. Day after day, newspapers ran headlines about ridiculous numbers of militants getting killed. After APS, there should have been serious questions about the veracity and efficacy of the operation, but there were hardly any. Instead everyone was ready to give any level of spin to reality to portray the Army as a sincere and honest bunch, above doubts and scrutiny. This is the "defense mechanism" of the Pakistani psyche I refer to.

Change requires an honest acknowledgement of the problem. What will happen a couple of days after a tragedy is that the "youthia" Twitter crowd of Pakistan will start trending silly hashtags targeting India. I say this with no malice and complete objectivity: The way things are going, there truly is no hope for Pakistan.

nasiroski Feb 01, 2015 04:52am

Unfortunately the "why reform when you can respond" type short term thinking is what has got us into this state. There is no incentive for people with authority (not limited to politicians) to reform,reform is typically pain-stacking, long term and good for public as well not exclusive for powerful.

BRR Feb 01, 2015 05:32am

The first two paragraphs say it all - nothing happens, despite all the brouhaha and handwringing. And when killing by islamic warriors happens in remote place, there is brouhaha either. well said.

Rahul Feb 01, 2015 06:58am

Great analysis! People in power are still insulated from all the problems.

Arun Feb 01, 2015 08:41am

I really feel the pain of the article writer and I echo the same thing. A nice article but all goes in vain un less until the accountable person are really patriotic. Everyone here is to protect their own interest and no one has the vision to collectively seen as whole country. One thing is sure that the solution is very nearby as it is reaching the worst situation. It will collapse and revamp again.

Adeel Feb 01, 2015 09:35am

I totally agree with the argument that root cause of the problems is that we have a state/system that is incoherent and broken. But it is not "someone in power" who will initiate the reform process. It is the people who need to get their act together and push for the reforms so vigorously that "the corrupt elite" is overthrown and replaced with the real representatives of people who care for the ordinary people instead of vested interests.

think_then_speak Feb 01, 2015 09:36am

the best article

Gp65 Feb 01, 2015 09:55am

How come the same incentives (re-election) work in India and US but not Pakistan? The problems in India and US do get solved though in the short term, in a rambunctuous democracy, it does not look like things are moving.

jim Feb 01, 2015 11:03am

Brilliant cyrill !!

Asad Haider Feb 01, 2015 11:45am


AW Feb 01, 2015 12:30pm

Accurate analysis - It is amazing that since independence, not one single government (civil or military) has ever acknowledged the need for reforms in all institutions. The entire system needs to be torn down and rebuilt and no "leader" has had the courage to take on the task. Until serious reforms take place, the country will remain in the current vicious cycle

deep Feb 01, 2015 12:32pm

Why reform when you can respond - brilliant

Parvez Feb 01, 2015 12:33pm are spot on with our leaders attitude. To expect the political class to respond to criticism is to expect the impossible.......but Raheel Sharif would do well to understand that respect comes from reforming and not just responding.

lalai Feb 01, 2015 12:42pm

Masterpiece. We have lost the capacity to even respond.

shabbir Feb 01, 2015 12:59pm

Our system is sick to its core. It does not need cosmetic surgery: it needs organ transplantation.

Mike Feb 01, 2015 12:59pm

Excellent article as always Cyril. Keep it up. Maybe some day, the positive thinkers like you, might be able to change course from the present suicidal track. All the best.

Akhtar Feb 01, 2015 01:19pm

Until politics in Pakistan changes from family run enterprises things will not change.

The mentality of politicians needs to change from what I can get from the country to what I can do for the country.

Checks and balances to stop corruption at all levels needs be put in place. This is crucial but will the leadership do this ?

Sirah Ahmed Feb 01, 2015 01:49pm

Our society structure is broken beyond repair. Nothing can be done, other than talks, talks and more talks.

karachi Wally Feb 01, 2015 01:56pm

Exactly - very well said.

sri1 Feb 01, 2015 02:25pm

@AdiB Bulls eye. I did not expect many in this pure land to get it, looks like there are at least some how do get it down to the millimeter.

Dilip Thorat Feb 01, 2015 02:29pm

The first step of reform is to stop being in denial and accept the problem. But it doesnt seems to the case at least for few hundered years. So.. Pakistan will be in a worst problems day by day by day by day

Dr. Chanakya Feb 01, 2015 02:55pm

An excellent analysis. Relevant not just for a country, but also for our individual functioning at work or personal lives. I used to work at the Xerox company, during the hay day of the 1980s when it ruled the Silicon valley. During the training of their new employees, they would try to infuse the mantra that you find a local problem, analyze its origin, and solve it if it is under your control and move on to the next problem. I have applied it to my own life over a 30-year of what people might call a reasonably successful career and I recommend it to you. Big changes come from if a large number of people each make a small difference.

mustik Feb 01, 2015 05:12pm

Once the nuclear power plants are operational all these issues will be history and pakistan will be firmly on the path to become another singapore.

Asad Jabbar Feb 01, 2015 05:46pm

One of the finest articles, illuminating on the seeds of attitudes, which cultivated a diverse harvest from Peshawar to Petrol--same seed, circular harvest.

Thoroughthinker Feb 01, 2015 06:23pm

Basic fault lies in the "Corner-stone of our energy policy", laid by PPP under Benazir in 1993 based upon Mr.10%'s brokered Independent Power Produces. About the fuel crisis, we must question the person who appointed a 'matriculate' as the chief of OGDC for siphoning all resources to private coffers and frustrating the team of good workers made to rot under the insensitive goon-administration.

Azmeen Feb 01, 2015 07:11pm

nothing new in the article.

Gfellow Feb 01, 2015 07:15pm

the last general election was essentially a referendum on electricity, then why hasn’t this government learned that lesson? Because Pakistan needs lots of money which it does not have. People want free electricity and do not want to pay for it. Any party and government will promise all the things to come to power, knowing fully well that they cannot solve the electricity problem.

M Mohan Feb 01, 2015 08:37pm

For whole of this article if we say improper governance and short of fore sighted ness is the root cause of such turbulance , all at the same time, it will appear to be more appropriate.

mirza Feb 01, 2015 09:41pm

I don't think the politicians (specially the rulers) have the capacity to reform. Why blame the army?. Its the Politicians who give them the space .

Hafeez imran Feb 01, 2015 10:22pm

Well written

NOTHING i going to change unless and until we throw out this corrupt incompetent rotten to teh core termite eaten system This system is so beyond reform or repair that it can never be fixed

What we need is -- Sincerity, honest, integrity, transparency and across the board accountabily and a major uplift and work on education

The people at large are to blme on a large part. We keep on bringing back the same incompetent self centered corrupt peolpe and do not allow or support honest people

What we need is a total revolution

Nand Feb 01, 2015 11:16pm

@mirza Does anyone have a choice with a gun at the back of his head?

Humaira Rahman Feb 02, 2015 12:23am

I would say "re-act" not "respond" Excellent article. thnx

Mustafa J. Feb 02, 2015 01:33am

It is time the entire nation of Pakistan should unite to support Government of Pakistan and its Military to fight and wipe out militancy and terrorism from Pakistan and give a pause to complaining and shouting about electricity, petrol, madressah, some becoming richer and some becoming poorer. Protection of lives comes first, for this reason, all other issues should be put on back burner until protection from militants and terrorists and lasting peace is fully achieved.

David Salmon Feb 02, 2015 01:55am

Well argued thesis, but I beg to quibble. Pakistan's "system" has decayed at all levels, to be sure, but it has a functioning democracy that tossed the last government out and is on course to do so again next time: politicians can be taught reform. Pakistan's electorate is uneducated, politically inexperienced, misled by demagogues of every stripe, but it has been learning fast. Pakistan's crises inform the public, expose reality, and lead it to better judgments. This in itself is a radical reform.

What is needed now is leadership, sadly lacking. A leader would speak of reality and show a way ahead to achieve the aspirations of the people. Reason and humility, along with a careful and comprehensive plan of action, could persuade many. But even a leader would have to find competent, intelligent, honest associates to carry out the reform. A Lincoln is rare, but surely someone will rise from below.


Khwaja Feb 02, 2015 02:22am

Broke my heart. I can feel the anguish, have felt it day after day. How we're deaf and blind to what we're doing to the country.

pubha Feb 02, 2015 02:30am

Will the Saudi Kingdom or should they help Pakistan in their crises after all the abuses by Pakistanis in Kingdom?

nabil Feb 02, 2015 04:07am

I like your article pretty good rhyming. Hey whats all the kerfuffle - no respond, reform. Hey whats all the kerfuffle - no respond, reform. Hey whats all the kerfuffle - no respond, reform. Argue Argue Argue.

syed abbas Feb 03, 2015 02:53pm

@Red Dawn whats wrong with that bro

Hammad A. Qureshi, PhD Feb 06, 2015 04:45pm

Awesome man. Hit the nail right on the spot.